Technology Innovation Turnaround

Technology Innovation Turnaround

Despite his repeated insistence at two City Council hearings that the City's Information Technology (IT) Department was sufficiently innovative, City Manager Robert Healy reversed himself this week and proposed an additional $325,000 in IT spending for fiscal year 2012.

According to a letter from Healy to the City Council dated May 23rd, these funds will support:

  • Mobile Applications. Smartphone access the City's new pothole complain system. This mobile application will allow citizens to upload pictures of the pothole.
  • Citizen Complaint System. An enhancement to the current Cambridge Request System, this will allow citizens to enter complaints directly into the City's work order system and receive ongoing notifications as the complaint is addressed.
  • Enhanced Web Site Search. The search function of the City's web site will be replaced by Google search.

Most importantly, the City Manager will create a more formal process for determining Information Technology project priorities and convene an "E-Gov Steering Committee" to assist in the development of a strategic plan for technology. According to Finance Committee Chair Marjorie Decker, this Committee will include not only City staff, but citizens as well.

In two hearings of the Council's Finance Committee, Healy and City Chief Information Officer Mary Hart heatedly defended the City's approach to information technology innovation and asserted that the improvements that Decker, Councilor Leland Cheung and Vice Mayor Henrietta Davis were requesting were happening, but that further innovations were not possible with existing resources. When pressed, Healy reminded the councilors that their direction was to keep the tax rate stable.

City Manager Robert Healey reviews
City Council agenda on his iPad

However, on Monday, Healy identified the following "unexpended Public Investment balances" from completed capital projects as sources of funding:

  • the microfilming of election records ($35,041)
  • cable TV equipment ($72,074)
  • Danehy Park skate board park construction ($128,062)
  • Clement Morgan Park construction ($89,823)

and requested that the Council transfer them to an Information Technology "Extraordinary Expenditures" account.

Decker, who shepherded the budget from novel participatory citizen forums through its unanimous adoption on Monday, lauded city staff for their embrace of this new process and noted that these technology funds show that the City Council can have an impact on the Cambridge budget.

The acknowledgment of the gap between citizen expectations and City service delivery and the identification of resources to address the gap is a solid first step. This alone does not guarantee success. The more detailed IT budget information that Healy provided shows an IT department struggling to stay current.

Two projects, the replacement of network devices and the Peoplesoft upgrade, address IT elements that are either at the end or past the end of their useful lifecycle. This is in addtion to the IT departments continuing maintenance of VAX computer, a system that is, as well, past its useful life. A progressive IT department, in contrast, would be proactively investing in and upgrading before their end of life.

The installation of an Uninterruptable Power Supply (UPS), a device that can provide power to computer systems for a limited times during a power outage, is a device that most prudent IT managers installed more than a decade ago. This installation raises questions about the City's ability to sustain its infrastructure during emegergencies. For example, would an extended power outage to the Central Square area make it impossible for the Public Works Department to use email or its work order system? As the City's business processes become increasingly computer dependent, these questions become more important.

While the thickets of Cambridge's IT budget may seem esoteric, the impact the quality of life in Cambridge grows by the day. In rolling out New York City's ambititious "Digital Roadmap", Mayor Michael Bloomberg noted, "This isn't just some wonky stuff. This is the stuff that makes a difference day in and day out."

Highest Priority Information Technology Projects Source: Robert Healey's May 23rd letter to City Council
Project Project Description Projected Expense
GISE GIS web tools, Public Complaint app, Master Address $50,000
Microsoft Licenses Licenses for Operating System (Windows 7) upgrades $90,000
Network upgrade Replace obsolete Access Points, Switches and GBIX. No longer supported and now upgradeable $150,000
PC Upgrades Replace old PC's [sic] $70,000
Peoplesoft (Oracle) Peoplesoft (Oracle) upgrades for Human Resources, Payroll and Financial Systems. Current versions go off support in calendar 2012 $600,000
Uninterruptable Power Supply Install an Uninterruptable power supply as backup to Computer Room in 301 City Hall $100,000
Web Technology Continue development of City Department web pages. Transition CDD and other departments to City Website and Content Management system $140,065

IT Strategy Planning Summary